Corpus Christi Rx Forum

Message Delivered
     100 in Corpus Christi Hear Legislators, Experts Back Needs of Community Rx

State Rep. Todd Hunter told a full meeting hall in Corpus Christi on March 27 (2014) that he needs help to communicate the value and needs of community pharmacy to his fellow lawmakers. "I am willing to stand up and fight for you," the House Calendars chairman said. "But I need your help. I need you to help me tell them all that you do."

Hunter, a longstanding ally of independent pharmacists and the author of TPBC's successful prompt-pay and audit bills, received the Irma Lerma Rangel Award of Excellence during the forum from Corpus Christi pharmacist Ron Garza, president of the Coastal Bend Pharmacy Association.

State Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, introduced at the start of the forum, echoed Rep. Hunter's concerns.

"You health-care professionals are being nickeled and dimed to death," sail Lozano, whose brother is a third-year pharmacy students at the Rangle College of Pharmacy in Kingsville. Your investment in your education isn't deserving of this type of regulatory environment."

Also attending the event were Rep. Sergio Muñoz of Mission and staff representatives of State Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen and Rep. Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi.

If there was any prevailing theme that emerged from the wide-ranging two-hour panel discussion, it was this: pharmacists have immense value in managing chronic diseases, improving patient outcomes and lowering health-care costs -- and they need to do a much better job of communicating that to lawmakers and policymakers.

The Pharmacy and Health Solutions Forum was hosted by Rep. Hunter and sponsored and conducted by American Pharmacies and TPBC. The event was moderated by APRx General Counsel Amanda G. Fields. About 100 attended the evening forum, held at the Solomon Ortiz Center in Corpus Christi. The diverse audience included state legislators, chain and independent pharmacists, technicians, other health-care professionals, academics and pharmacy students.

Two panels addressed an array of issues concerning the evolving role of pharmacists in health care, growing Medicaid challenges for community pharmacies and their patients, and how pharmacies must adapt to changing economics and expectations.

The pharmacist panel included:

  • TPBC Board member Bill Moore of Sinton;
  • APRx Board member Joe Ochoa of Edinburg;
  • APRx & TPBC Board member Bruce Rogers of Victoria; and
  • APRx member Ron Garza, owner of DeLeon's Pharmacy in Corpus Christi.

The second panel included:

  • Lydia Aguilera, clinical professor at the University of Texas - Pan-American and director of the UT Cooperative Pharmacy Program;
  • Dean Indra Reddy of the Rangel College of Pharmacy at the Texas A&M Health Sciences Center in Kingsville;
  • Dr. Brian Smith, M.D., Region 11 Director for the Texas Dept. of State Health Services; and
  • Andy Vasquez, Deputy Director for Medicaid/CHIP for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Although the panelists addressed the challenges community pharmacies face under Medicaid managed care, they spent much time addressing the changing role of pharmacists and the need to implement more clinical services into the community retail setting.

"If it was up to me all of you would be MTM certified and be practicing MTM," Aguilera said. "It's a win-win because it improves patient outcomes and it's a revenue stream for you. Independents are in a great position to do this"

Many pharmacists in the audience were eager to hear what Vazquez had to say about pharmacy reimbursements under Medicaid managed care and what steps HHSC is taking to address that issue. Vazquez, who oversees the Medicaid/CHIP Vendor Drug Program, strongly implied that dispensing fees will rise in the fee-for-service part of Medicaid
as a result of the cost of dispensing study HHSC is conducting on behalf of CMS.

"We are trying to find out how much does it cost behind the counter to run your business," he said. "The other part of the survey is how much it cost you to acquire drugs. We are moving toward AAC to have more accurate acquisition cost and to have a more reasonable dispensing fee -- a professional dispensing fee."

Vazquez was clear that any coming adjustments in reimbursement levels wouldn't apply to MCOs and PBMs, but added "We will certainly educate them about our methodology and the origin for it."

TPBC Executive Director Michael Wright said the forum was an invaluable event for bring pharmacy issues into the spotlight and strengthening important legislative ties.

"It certainly cemented our relationships with our allies like Chairman Hunter," Wright said. "And it lays important groundwork for winning new friends for the next session."

Added APRx President Mike Gohlke: "We accomplished our mission of recognizing Rep.Hunter as a champion for our cause and shining a light on a number of stress fractures facing pharmacy. It will set the stage and solidify our friends as we go down the road to another session."

And at the end of the evening, Rep. Hunter again made it clear that pharmacists absolutely must get politically involved if they want their role to be better respected and compensated.

"We meet 140 days every two years. We actually only pass bills for about 80 of these days," he said. "Most people don't understand what you do. We have to have your help. We have to show people who you are. It's very important your legislators help you explain who you are so we can have some laws that make sense."